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FLDS parents hit with court papers for pending custody battle

Published: Sunday, April 13 2008 4:24 p.m. MDT

Legal notices are being published in the Eldorado hometown paper, addressed to "all unknown parents, and any person claiming to be a parent of, any one or more of the children removed from the YFZ Ranch."
The notices, filed by attorneys for the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, announces the petitions for hundreds of children taken from the Fundamentalist LDS Church's Texas ranch.
"You have been sued. You may employ an attorney. If you or your attorney do not file a written answer with the clerk who issued this citation by 10:00 a.m. on the Monday next following the expiration of twenty (20) days after you were served this citation and petition, a default judgment may be taken against you."
The legal notices are being published in the Eldorado Success, the town's weekly newspaper, in anticipation of Thursday's court hearing that will determine whether the children will be placed in foster care or returned to their parents. Newspaper publication is another method of serving court papers when someone cannot be located to be personally served.
The notices name all of the children that have been identified by Texas child welfare workers.
"Baby girl Jessop, a child." "Freddie, a child." "Naomi, a child." Some of them are simply listed as "in the interest of 330 children from the YFZ Ranch" or "in the interest of 16 children from the YFZ Ranch."
A separate notice published in the newspaper, names the parents they know of and lists their birth dates. It's a long list of Barlows, Allreds, Jessops, Johnsons, Mussers, Nielsens, Steeds, and Jeffs, etc.
Each lawsuit requests emergency protection of a child.
"The Court has authority in this suit to render any order, judgment or decree in the children's interest that will be binding on you, including the termination of the parent-child relationship, a determination of maternity for each child, a determination of paternity for each child, and appointment of a conservator with authority to consent to each child's adoption," the notice reads.
The upcoming custody battle for the FLDS children could be massive.
Already, Texas officials have said it is the biggest child welfare case they have ever had to deal with. Each of the children must have an attorney. More than a hundred Texas family law attorneys have already been drafted or volunteered to help out.
Many with experience dealing with the FLDS Church and its unique culture have been offering assistance to Texas authorities.
"We're doing education on how to work with the culture," said Shannon Price with the Diversity Foundation, which helps children leaving the polygamous communities.
Price said she has encouraged child welfare workers to be as respectful of the FLDS people as much as possible.
"Have a midwife come in to deal with medical issues. If they need to wash out their garments, don't observe it because they're sacred. If they want to have a Sunday meeting, let them do it in private," she advised.
Price said she believes Texas authorities are sincere in not focusing on polygamy, but instead on purported child abuse.
"It's kind of a no-win situation for the government in many ways. Anything the government does, they put their toe on the property and it's vilifying the community," she told the Deseret News in a recent interview. "The only people I've heard say you're prosecuting polygamy is from polygamous families."
In a statement posted Friday on its Web site, Texas child protective services said no children will be placed in foster care until after Thursday's hearing.
"A number of state agencies are working together to make all the children as comfortable as possible, and to meet all their physical, medical and psychology needs while they are in San Angelo," the statement said.


E-MAIL: bwinslow@desnews.com

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